Tetracycline (Topical)

One of the best treatments for acne and skin infections is the antibiotic known as tetracycline, which can be administered at home to clear up skin problems.


Tetracyclines are available in several different forms and are commonly used to treat skin disorders. When used as a topical ointment, tetracycline treats skin infections, and when used as a topical liquid or as Mac loci clean cream, it is used to help reduce inflammation of acne as well as the outbreak of associated pimples. Any of these three may be used as a stand-alone treatment, or in conjunction with other skin medications to achieve the desired results. Of the three, only tetracycline appointment can be used without a prescription, although your dermatologist or family doctor may have some specific instructions for you to follow when using tetracycline ointment.

Condition Treated

  • Minor skin infections caused by bacteria

Type of Medicine

  • Antibiotics

Side Effects

Side effects associated with tetracycline are not usually serious, but when you notice one or more of these, you should contact your family physician to inquire about any steps to be taken. One of the most commonly reported side effects of tetracycline usage is swelling, inflammation, pain, or other forms of irritation which were not present prior to a program of treatment with tetracycline.

Other side effects which may be manifested are dry or scaly skin, and for those forms of tetracycline which include alcohol, a stinging or burning sensation on the skin. It is not necessary to consult your family doctor for either of these side effects since they are considered typical reactions which are relatively harmless, even if they are somewhat uncomfortable.

It is possible when using tetracycline in its cream or topical liquid form that you would notice a slight yellowish tint to the skin after prolonged usage, and this is something you should check with your healthcare professional about. If any other side effects beside those listed above should appear, make sure to contact your doctor for medical advice. He/she may recommend that you come in for a visit so that the side effects can be observed and possibly treated.


The dosage for tetracycline in each of its several forms will be different for all patients, and for this reason, it is advisable to strictly follow your doctor's recommendations, as well as any printed instructions on the label of your product. The amount of medication which is needed daily will depend on the strength of the medicine, as well as the number of applications that you go through each day.

Daily dosages will also depend on the particular kind of medical condition being treated, as well as how severely affected your skin is. If you should miss your daily application of tetracycline, you may then apply at the earliest convenient opportunity, unless you are approaching the next regularly scheduled application. In this situation, you can simply skip the missed application, and wait the short period of time until the next planned dosage.

When using chlortetracycline, adults and children should use the medication ointment once or twice daily to treat skin infections. When using meclocycline cream, both adults and children should use twice daily, with one application being in the morning, and the other in the evening before bedtime.

When using tetracycline as an ointment, adult and child patients should treat skin infections by applying once or twice daily, as directed by your doctor. When using tetracycline as a solution, adults and teens should have morning and evening applications for their treatment programs. All children aged 11 or less should only use tetracycline solution as directed by a family physician.


Although there are no known serious interactions with other drugs, you should make sure to advise your doctor of any other medications you are currently taking when you begin a program of treatment with tetracycline. This should include all prescription medications as well as any over-the-counter medications which you are taking. Your physician may want to lower dosages of some of these medications, so there are no conflicts with tetracycline usage.

You should not use tetracycline at meal times, while drinking, or while smoking, since these actions can cause issues with the medication. To be safe, you should discuss with your physician any usage of alcohol or tobacco that you currently have, since they may want to discontinue those while you're being treated with tetracycline.


There are certain precautions and warnings which should be borne in mind for any patient making use of tetracyclines. For instance, if you have any kind of known reaction to tetracyclines, or other medications in this general grouping, you should make your doctor aware of this.

Your doctor should also know about any other kinds of allergies which you have, such as to preservatives, animals, or food dyes. It's a good idea when shopping to always check out the food levels for ingredients which you know you may be allergic to, or you think you might be allergic to, so that no negative reactions with your tetracycline medication will come about.

There are no known problems which specifically affect children, teens, or young adults, relative to the usage of tetracyclines. In cases where any of these groups have been involved in a treatment program including tetracyclines, there have been no observed reactions which are any different than what might be expected for a treatment program used by an adult. Therefore, there are no special precautions which must be taken for any other age grouping, and insofar as is currently known, all age groups enjoy the same safe usage of tetracyclines. This is also true of elderly persons, even though there is only limited data available on reactions from people in the age group 65 or older.

There have been no extensive studies conducted on the impact of tetracycline and human pregnancy, so there are no precautions or warnings which must be observed for a woman who is pregnant and planning to use tetracycline for the treatment of a skin disorder. The one caveat to this statement is that some studies of rabbits have indicated that meclocycline cream usage can cause a minor delay in the formation of bones among infants.

Similarly, it is not known whether any component of tetracyclines can be passed through breastmilk into an infant. The general rule of thumb in such cases is that most medications do pass on tiny amounts into the breastmilk given to youngsters. However, in the vast majority of such cases, there is no harm whatsoever incurred by the infant, due to the minimal amount of medication passed on through the breastmilk.

Patients using the topical ointment form of tetracycline should observe certain precautions during usage. In order to make sure your infection completely clears up, you should continue using your tetracycline medication for the full prescription time, even if you observe significant improvement, or a complete clearing up sooner than the prescribed duration of treatment. The reason for this is that if you should curtail usage of your tetracycline medication before the prescribed expiration date, your symptoms may return, and you would have to start a treatment program all over again.

You should avoid getting tetracycline ointment anywhere on your clothing since it can stain clothes and will not easily wash out. If you purchased some form of tetracycline ointment without a prescription, make sure not to use it for the treatment of punctures, serious burns, or any deep wounds that you may have, without first consulting your family doctor or healthcare professional.

Keep tetracycline ointment well away from your eyes, since it can trigger an uncomfortable and painful stinging in the eyes, which would have to be washed out. Before using tetracycline ointment, make sure the targeted skin area has been thoroughly washed and cleaned with warm water and soap. The area should then be completely rinsed to clear out the soap used, and then dried. After using tetracycline ointment, it is permissible to cover the affected area with some kind of a gauze dressing to keep it protected from external debris or other materials.

Patients who are using the cream form of tetracycline or the topical liquid form should be advised that neither of these will actually cure your acne, but both will help to manage it and keep it under control, with fewer and less severe outbreaks. In order to achieve desirable results, however, you should continue using your topical liquid or cream for the full duration of treatment, even if you see significant improvement within just a few days.

It is often necessary to use either of these medications for several months at a time, applying the medication every day so that it continues to be as effective as possible. Don't stop using the medication too soon, or it's very likely that acne symptoms will return, and you may have to begin full treatment all over again.

Users of the cream form of tetracycline should be careful not to get it on clothing, since it will leave a stain that would be very difficult to wash out with detergent. Before applying the cream medication, make sure that the intended target area of the skin has been thoroughly washed with warm water and soap, and then completely rinsed so as to be free of all soap residue, then thoroughly dried.

Proper usage of the tetracycline cream involves the application of a thin film of the medication so that there is just a light covering on the intended area. The cream should be applied to the entire surface area affected by acne, rather than just where outbreaks of pimples are visible, since this will help to prevent the formation of new pimples, as well as controlling existing ones.

During usage, make sure to keep tetracycline cream well away from eyes, mouth, nose, and any other mucous membranes of the body. During application, make sure that your spreading motion is in a direction away from all these areas, and that no medicine comes close to them.

Patients using the topical liquid form of tetracycline should also be very careful about getting the medication anywhere near clothing, since any stains will be difficult to remove. All patients on a program of treatment involving topical liquid tetracycline will receive patient instructions that should be carefully observed and carried out, so as to achieve optimum results, as well as to avoid any misuse of the medication. For instance, tetracycline in its liquid form is highly flammable because it contains a significant amount of alcohol, and should therefore be kept far away from any open flames or sources of intense heat. For the same reason, you should not be smoking when administering liquid form tetracycline.

Do not use the medication beyond the listed expiration date on the label, since it may be significantly reduced in its effectiveness, and may not provide the normal benefits of medication. There is a floating plastic plug suspended in the liquid which is intended to be a signal that the medicine has been properly mixed - this plastic plug should not be removed under any circumstances.

Even if you're trying to speed up the process, you should not use liquid tetracycline any more often than your doctor has prescribed or instructed, since it can cause skin irritation and can severely dry out the affected areas. Before usage, make sure to thoroughly wash the intended target area with warm water and soap. After washing, rinse well with warm water, and then pat dry with a cloth or paper towel.

Ideally, you should wait approximately 30 minutes after washing the affected area before applying liquid tetracycline, since the alcohol component of the medication may cause irritation to a freshly washed area. It is not advisable to over-wash areas of your skin affected by acne because it can dry the skin out and actually cause the acne condition to worsen. The optimum washing program calls for cleaning with mild soap two or three times daily unless you have extremely oily skin. If you have any questions about your skin type or about frequency of washing, you should consult with your family doctor or dermatologist for instructions.

Liquid tetracycline comes in a bottle fitted with an applicator tip so that the medication may be directly applied to any skin areas targeted. When using this applicator, make a dabbing motion on the skin rather than the way you would use a roll-on deodorant, i.e. with a rolling motion. The bottle should be tilted, and the applicator should be pressed directly against the skin. To increase the rate of flow, you can press the tip more firmly against the skin. This principle also works in reverse, meaning you can slow down the rate of flow by using less pressure against the skin.

When applying liquid tetracycline, you should apply a generous amount on the skin, so that you have the sensation of the affected area being completely wet. After the medication has been applied to the skin, it's best to use your fingers to spread it evenly around the entire area affected by acne, and even to rub it in gently, so the medication can penetrate through skin pores.

If the affected skin area does not feel wet all over, there is no harm applying a second coat of liquid tetracycline to the area, to make sure that sufficient medication has been applied. After you have applied the medication, you should wash your hands completely, especially if you used your fingers to rub the medication in more thoroughly.

Be aware that you are likely to feel a stinging sensation on your skin when using liquid tetracycline, due to the alcohol component included in it. This will not cause any harm, as long as you are very careful to keep it away from the eyes, nose, and mouth. If the medication does get into any of these areas, be sure to immediately wash out the affected area and flush it well with water.

Cool tap water from your kitchen faucet will be fine for this purpose, and after thorough flushing, if you still feel a stinging sensation that won't go away, contact your physician. Generally speaking, one bottle of liquid tetracycline is sufficient to last for about eight weeks, assuming daily usage on the face and neck areas. If the medication is used for other areas as well, for instance on your back, there might only be enough for about a four-week supply.


Tetracycline in all its forms should be kept well out of the reach of children, so that there is no possibility of accidental ingestion, or of it getting on the skin or on clothing. It should be stored in a tightly sealed container at room temperature, well away from direct light, high temperatures, and excessive humidity. That means that tetracycline should not be stored in the bathroom medicine cabinet, since hot and humid conditions are often prevalent during showering and bathing times.

Tetracycline must also be kept away from extreme cold, as it may damage the useful properties of the medication. Do not keep expired tetracycline in the home, and make sure it is properly disposed of once it has expired. If you are unsure about proper disposal methods, you can find out more information from your family doctor or pharmacist.


Tetracycline can be a very effective antibiotic in the treatment of acne and skin infections and can be administered by a patient right at home. Tetracycline ointment does not require a prescription, but the other two forms of the medication do call for a doctor's prescription - these being liquid tetracycline and the cream version of the medication.

There is generally little danger of interaction with other medications, and the side effects of using tetracycline do not usually amount to much more than a stinging sensation, or some temporarily dry, scaly skin. With a high upside, and very little downside, that makes tetracycline one of the most useful antibiotic treatments for people experiencing any kind of skin disorders.

Last Reviewed:
December 23, 2017
Last Updated:
April 03, 2018
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